and Bill Enright
Last Updated: Apr 28, 2011 12:00 PM
The Colts started off the year slow, while the Jaguars began with a bang. But both teams returned to normalcy by the end of the year. Indy won the Division and the Jags barely missed the playoffs.It seems Jacksonville is just a few Defensive playmakers away from taking that next step into the post-season. The Colts are a perennial power when it comes to finding late-round gems, can they continue the trend in 2011? The Titans start a new regime in 2011 with Head Coach Mike Munchak and presumably a new QB. But will they be able to grab their guy with the 8th Overall pick? Finally the Texans are in desperate need for help in the secondary. Will they trade up from the 11th spot to grab a promising DB prospect?
We answer these questions and give you some insight on who the teams from the AFC South are considering in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Draft Picks: R1 Pick 22, R2 Pick 21, R3 Pick 23, R4 Pick 22, R5 Pick 21, R6 Pick 23
Defensive Tackle: 2009 second-rounder Fili Moala made strides in 2010 and Indianapolis is secure at one interior spot for the next campaign, but they have a question mark for the other starting job with both Dan Muir and Antonio Johnson both uncertain to return as unrestricted free agents. An upgrade is really in order regardless of their status though, as the Colts did not generate much of a pass rush from the inside, and an explosive prospect like Drake Nevis could help, as he had a knack for pressuring opposing quarterbacks in 2010 at LSU and collected six sacks on the season. He would also be a good fit with speedy defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Cornerback: The Colts have a solid stable of cornerbacks led by Jerraud Powers and Kelvin Hayden, but were hit hard by injuries in 2010 and they fell to 13th in passing yards allowed per game as a result. Look for Indianapolis to target a quality cornerback prospect for better depth at some point in the Draft. If the position is secure next season, defensive coordinator Larry Coyer will be able to blitz more frequently as well, hence making his unit more fearsome for opposing quarterbacks.
Strong-side Linebacker: Philip Wheeler failed to get the job done before being replaced by rookie Pat Angerer last season, and he performed much better but is viewed as a more natural fit for the middle and is being prepped as a future successor to Gary Brackett. Clint Session and Kavell Connor are slated to work on the weak-side, so Indianapolis should look for a prospect at strong-side linebacker with starting potential. Mark Herzlich is among the players that will be worth a look for the middle rounds, as he was a tackling machine at Boston College before a bout with cancer. He could be a steal if he fully regains his strength and athleticism.
Offensive Line: The Colts Left Tackle, Charlie Johnson, seem to struggle last season against speedy edge rushers and is a Free Agent this season. Ryan Diem, the team's Right Tackle, is entering his 11th season and lacked consistency with his play. The Colts were also forced to start four different Guards in 2010, which disrupted the unit's chemistry. Plus, Center Jeff Saturday turns 36 years old this summer and is a Free Agent in 2012. Drafting Saturday's eventual replacement in this year's draft would be a wise move considering how complicated it is to get a good grip on all of Peyton Manning's audible calls. It's unlikely the Colts will go after a Center or Tackle in the First Round since Center Mike Pouncey (Florida) and Tackles Anthony Castonzo (Boston College), Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin), and Nate Solder (Colorado) are expected to be selected a few slots ahead of the Colts' #22 pick. That is unless they decide to trade up a few spots in hopes of snatching one of those top-prospects.
Wide Receiver: Peyton Manning and his talented group of young WRs led the league with 288 yards per game. Austin Collie had a breakout first half of the year, only to be plagued by a concussion during the second half. Anthony Gonzalez seems like he has a ton of potential, but can't stay healthy enough to make an impact. Reggie Wayne is still one of the most productive Wide Receivers in the league, but he'll be entering his last year under contract and is turning 33 in November. If Peyton Manning and bunch want to continue dominating Defenses via their aerial attack, they'll need to add a playmaker with a ton of potential. Pierre Garcon is really the team's only deep threat and though he makes some spectacular plays, he also drops a lot of catchable passes. If the Colts could snag Boise State's Titus Young off the board, I think he'd develop into a great fit for Indy. Young is blazing fast, makes defenders miss, and can contribute on Special Teams with his returning ability. Maryland's Torrey Smith is another receiver who turns on the after-burners in order to get beyond the secondary and has enormous potential as a home-run threat. Young may be available when the Colts are up in the 2nd Round, but it's doubtful Smith will be on the board, which makes me believe the Colts may jump on him in the 1st Round (much to the surprise of nearly every draft expert).
Draft Picks: R1 Pick 16, R2 Pick 17, R3 Pick 16, R4 Pick 17, R4 Pick 24, R5 Pick 16, R6 Pick 17
Defensive End: The Jaguars only mustered 26 sacks in 2010 and improving their pass-rush for next season should be high on their list of priorities, especially with their top defensive end Aaron Kampman coming off his second torn ACL. 2008 first-round pick Derrick Harvey is yet to give Jacksonville even a decent return on their investment, and Jeremy Mincey will likely never be a true intimidator despite setting a new career high with five sacks last season. There should be several enticing pass-rushers available at pick No. 16 for the Jaguars, with some notable names being Aldon Smith and Ryan Kerrigan(Purdue).
Linebacker: Middle linebackerKirk Morrison was not quite as effective in his first campaign with Jacksonville following an excellent five-year run in Oakland, and he turned 29 in February. Justin Durant has flashed big-time potential, but is really not consistent enough to be counted on as a full-time starter on the weak-side. Daryl Smith is a keeper on the strong-side, but Jacksonville could use upgrades at both of the other spots –- especially after ranking 28th in run defense in 2010. They could use better depth behind Russell Allen as well, so it is a good bet that the Jaguars will use one of their earlier picks on a linebacker.
Safety: Don Carey and Courtney Greene lacked experience as Jacksonville's starters last season, and they were burned early and often as the club ranked 28th in passing yards allowed per battle. The Draft isn't very deep at the position, but the Jaguars may still take a shot on a prospect in the middle rounds. JeronJohnson (Boise State) is one guy who will be worth a look, as he possesses the speed and instincts Jacksonville lacks.
Wide Receiver: 2009 breakout Wide Receiver, Mike Sims Walker, is a Free Agent and sort of fell off David Garrard's radar in 2010. Mike Thomas, on the other hand, had a solid 2010 season but since he's only entering his 3rd year, he still has to prove he can produce consistently. Thomas is more of a slot receiver and not much of a vertical threat, so adding a WR with top-notch speed or a receiver with a big frame will likely be in the Jags' plan of action. Jerrel Jernigan (Troy)is only 5'9, but makes up for what he lacks in size with his speed, agility, and elusiveness. He was a big play guy in College and should be able to continue that trend in the pros. Pittsburgh's Jonathan Baldwini s basically the opposite of Jernigan. Baldwin is 6'4, 230 pounds, with long arms and a solid frame. Baldwin isn't overtly fast, but uses his size and length to catch passes and make plays over Defenders. Baldwin may sneak into the late 1st Round, but could be available in the 2nd when the Jags are on the clock with the 17th pick. Jernigan will be available in the 2nd and maybe even 3rd Round.
Quarterback: David Garrard is under contract through 2013, which would allow the Jaguars to develop his eventual replacement for three seasons before letting him take over their Offense. Garrard is still getting the job done, so the Jags don't need to worry about starting a rookie or even 2nd year QB. Garrard's backup, Trent Edwards, seems to be on the path of becoming a perennial backup and never a full time starter. With some many promising QBs expected to go in the 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th rounds, the Jaguars would be wise to draft a developmental QB this season. Nevada's Colin Kaepernick spent a lot of time with Jacksonville's QB coach at his Nevada Pro Day. Kaerpernick has good size, mobility, and arm strength, but needs to iron out his accuracy. The Jags also hosted Virignia Tech's QB, Tyrod Taylor ,for a private workout.
Draft Picks: R1 Pick 11, R2 Pick 10, R3 Pick 9, R4 Pick 8, R5 Pick 7, R6 Pick 13, R7 Pick 11, R7 Pick 51
Cornerback: Houston's pass defense tied for last in the NFL (with Dallas) in 2010 with 33 touchdowns allowed through the air, and upgrading at cornerback should be their top priority. They have plenty of muscle among their current starting tandem of Jason Allen and Kareem Jackson, but lack speed, which was a main reason why they were burned so often last season. There is a rumor circulating that they would love to trade up from their No. 11 slot to land Patrick Peterson(LSU), but Prince Amukamara(Nebraska) should be available when on the board, and won't cost additional picks to acquire.
Free Safety: Eugene Wilson looked lost as Houston's starting free safety last season and was given his walking papers in February when the club released him. Cornerback Glover Quin has the range and toughness to give a favorable audition for the role in 2011, but the Texans would be best-suited to target a natural safety in the Draft. Eric Hagg is one prospect who would make a nice mid-round selection, as he is well-built at 6-1, 205 pounds, with solid coverage skills and good play-making potential for the next level as he is coming off a five-interception campaign at Nebraska.
Nose Tackle: New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips wants to move to a 3-4 scheme in 2011, and will need an effective nose tackle for the defense to have a chance to succeed. Phillips believes Shaun Cody or Earl Mitchell could be up to the task, but may decide to add a natural nose tackle through the Draft for competition and more options. Jurrell Casey(USC) is one prospect who could be on their radar in the earlier rounds, as he has good size at 6-1, 305 pounds, and is quicker than he looks with ability to make plays in the backfield.
Wide Receiver: It's no secret the Texans have one of the most dominant Wide Receivers in all of Football by way of Andre Johnson. But besides Johnson, the Texans lack another solid #2 WR. Sure, Kevin Walter plays his role and contributes with a few key grabs each game, but Walter isn't preventing Defenses from putting double coverage on Johnson. Some NFL Pundits predicted Jacoby Jones would have a breakout year in 2010, but after catching 51 passes for 562 yards and 3 TDs, it's safe to say Jones was a bit of a disappointment. Jones is now a Free Agent and isn't expected back with Houston, so the Texans need to grab a young playmaker for Matt Schaub to target. Since they have a few more pressing needs on the other side of the ball, don't expect the Texans to take a Wide Receiver in the 1st Round, maybe not even the 2nd. But if Houston plays their cards right, they could grab a receiver like North Carolina's Greg Little, in the 3rd round and get very promising player at a very low cost. The NCAA suspended Little in 2010 for “illegally” communicating with an agent, but he showed enough skill in 2009 for teams to consider him in Round 3. Last year the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a similar move by drafting Mike Williams in the 4th Round, despite Williams sitting out that previous season. That plan seemed to work out terrifically for the Bucs, and it should work out for Texans if they roll the dice on Little. Another playmaker that could be on the board in the 2nd or 3rd round is Kentucky's Randall Cobb, who is considered one of the most versatile players in this year's draft. While at Kentucky, Cobb did it all, including lining up at RB and QB in Wild Cat formations in addition to receiver. Plus Cobb could fill the void left behind by Jones (if he leaves) on Special Teams by returning punts and kicks.
Tight End: Matt Schaub likes targeting his Tight End a lot, which explains why Owen Daniels was having a breakout season two years ago, before getting injured. Daniels was bitten by the injury bug once again in 2010, opening the door for backup Joel Dreessen to contribute. But it didn't seem Dreessen is capable of having the type of impact or production that Daniels has when healthy. Problem is, Daniels it doesn't seem like Daniels is capable of staying healthy. Now, making this prediction is probably a HUGE shocker for our readers, but I don't think the Texans would be crazy if they took Kyle Rudolph (Notre Dame) with their 1st Round pick. Rudolph was a 3-year started for the Fighting Irish, has the ideal size, (6'6, 265 pounds), speed, and knows how to block. Remember, when Daniels had that breakout year, Matt Schaub ended up leading the league in passing yards, so it's clear the Tight End position is very important in this Offense. Drafting Rudolph may be a risk only because it isn't a huge position of need, but the reward seems to be well worth it.
Draft Picks: R1 Pick 8, R2 Pick 7, R3 Pick 13, R4 Pick 12, R4 Pick 33, R5 Pick 11, R6 Pick 10, R7 Pick 9, R7 Pick 48
Quarterback: The Vince Young experiment in Tennessee is now over. It seemed to work in terms of winning because Young has a decent winning percentage (65%). But inaccurate passes, altercations at Night Clubs, maturity issues, and verbal battles with former Head Coach Jeff Fischer, forced the Titans to cut ties with the former #3 overall selection (2006). Kerry Collins has come off as an ageless wonder the last few seasons, but Collins is a Free Agent and isn't the solution for the future. It doesn't seem like Rusty Smith is the answer either. Will Blaine Gabbert (Missouri) be available when the Titans are on the clock with the 8th overall pick? It's a possibility. But that would require the Cardinals, 49ers, and Bengals, all of whom need a QB, to pass on him. If Gabbert is there, I believe that's who the Titans draft. But perhaps its more likely the Titans grab Andy Dalton (TCU), Jack Locker (Washington), or Christian Ponder (Florida State) in the 2nd Round. With Head Coach Mike Munchak's regime entering it's 1st year, it makes sense to start it with a new QB under center. Expect the Titans to not only draft a QB, but start him toward the beginning portion of the season.
Wide Receiver: Like Vince Young, Kenny Britt can't seem to stay out of trouble. He was arrested this off-season and has numerous run ins with the cops since entering the NFL. There was about a 4-week window this past season where Britt was one of the best receivers in the NFL, but was hampered by a hamstring injury toward the end of the year. Other than Britt, the Titans didn't get much action from their receivers. Does anyone even remember Randy Moss played for the Titans this past season? Not likely since he was virtually unused. We expect Britt to return to the team, but he may get handed a suspension from Roger Goodell, which is why the Titans will need a new playmaker in the passing game. Miami's Leonard Hankerson, Indiana's Tandon Doss, or Pittsburgh's Jon Baldwin, would all be suitable fits. Each of those three receivers is taller than 6'3, have long arms, and can leap over Defenders. If the Titans get a QB or DT in the 1st, expect them to go with a WR in the early 2nd Round.